A man with a guitar leans on a pool table in a dimly-lit bar

Jim Dugan is a fixture of the live music scene at Shorty’s Place.

Musician Jim Dugan grabs a Seagull acoustic guitar from his Ford F-250 diesel pickup in the gravel parking lot at Shorty’s Place, ready to play his standing Sunday gig at the new location of the wood-frame bar that has been a local institution in Port Aransas for almost eight decades. He chats with loyalists who gather on its deck, shielded from the bright afternoon sun by a mesh awning. They sip cheap bottles of Lone Star or partake of the bar’s signature “Golf Shot”—an invigorating concoction of whiskey, coconut rum, banana liqueur, and Red Bull. Without a formal introduction, Dugan launches into “Bloody Mary Morning,” substituting “Port Aransas” for “Houston” in the lyrics of the Willie Nelson standard, bringing chuckles and applause from the flip-flop-clad crowd.

Shorty’s Place
101 Beach St., Port Aransas.
Open Mon-Sat 10 a.m.-2 a.m., Sun noon-2 a.m.

A retired biology teacher and high school football coach, Dugan is one of several local artists who perform regularly on its outdoor stage. “I think Shorty’s is a connection to the old days in Port Aransas when there were less people, condos, and golf carts,” he says after his set.

It’s good the attraction to Shorty’s persists because it could have disappeared several times in its history. The victim of catastrophic hurricanes like Celia and Harvey, the bar has also seen the murder of its namesake owner and downturns in the coastal economy. Its latest challenge: the loss of the surface lease on its former site in the Flats near Port Aransas’ historic marina in November 2022, which prompted a move to the other end of downtown.

On this late October day, Dugan’s audience arrives via motorcycle, golf cart rental, and even three-wheel bicycle. The bartender can barely keep up with the steady stream of orders, though it helps that she can pass drinks through an open window to the imbibers outside—just as she would have before the ramshackle structure was split apart and hauled from the Flats for reassembly. Reopening six months later, it has a fresh coat of white paint, better insulation, a sturdier foundation, and an expanded beer garden with picnic tables.

“Folks say when they are inside the new Shorty’s, they lapse into forgetting it has moved,” says commercial builder Christopher Todd Jordan, who also moonlights for the rock band Selfie, which has played at the bar since 2014. “And then when they step outside, it’s a bit dissociative, like they have fallen into a wormhole and ended up in ‘Bizarro World.’”

The exterior of the bar, in a white building with blue trim and a large wooden deck

A view from outside the new Shorty’s address

The same bric-a-brac occupies makeshift shelves at the new site, like ceramic pigs commemorating the annual Shorty’s pig roast, vintage license plates, and a scratched combat helmet. Two vintage pool tables with old-fashioned leather drop pockets—no coin-operated version here—are around the corner from the bar. And thousands of donated hats and koozies still hang from the ceiling, many of which were washed and sanitized at a local laundromat before being rehung at their new digs.

Another holdover at the new site is the lack of air conditioning, which comes as a shock to many newcomers. But owner Edwin Myers says the decision was a deliberate one consistent with the spirit of the bar. “The way it’s now positioned allows us to take advantage of the south and southeast winds during the summer,” Myers says. “And then during the winter, all the area outside is shielded from the north wind.” 

Regardless of its address, the long-standing motto of Shorty’s—Port Aransas’ “Oldest and Friendliest” bar—still applies today. Opened as a converted pool hall by Gladys “Shorty” Fowler and her husband, Mack, in 1946, it attracted local clientele that included shrimpers from the nearby docks, fishing guides, and tradespeople, as well as the occasional vacationer. The business on Tarpon Street survived Hurricane Carla in 1961, although the L-shaped building had to be reconstructed on its existing pilings. And it remained in the family, passing to the Fowlers’ daughter, Rose Gates Smithey, in the ’70s, followed by her offspring, Joy, in 2011. They resisted offers to sell the iconic watering hole until Myers—who operated two other Port Aransas’ venues—came forward in 2012 with a promise to not to replace it with anything trendy. “It’s like a living museum. I want to preserve that,” Myers told the Port Aransas South Jetty at the time.

Two bottles of Lone Star beer stand next to a small cup filled with a golden brown liquid

The bar’s signature Golf Shot

Ace in the Hole

Bartender Hazel Reed shares the famous Shorty’s Golf Shot recipe

3/4 ounce whiskey
1/4 ounce coconut rum
Dash of banana liqueur
1 ounce Red Bull energy drink

Pour all ingredients into a rocks glass, stir, and enjoy.

A skeleton wearing a shirt and holding a guitar in front of a collection of posters and memorabilia including a sign reading

The same tchotchkes still line the space

A large collection of hats pack the ceiling of a bar above velvet green pool tables

Thousands of hats hang from the ceiling

Preservation also was top of mind when Myers learned last year that the lease at the marina would not be renewed. Fortunately, an alternate location was available just six blocks away. While Shorty’s was able to withstand Harvey’s direct hit at its Flats location in 2017—even reopening eight nights later with generator-powered portable lights and a rock concert amid the muddy debris—other businesses weren’t so lucky. One such restaurant was Castaway’s Seafood & Grill, which was razed due to the damage. It was at that well-known site where Myers targeted the rebirth of Shorty’s.

Whether at the Flats or its slightly less scuffed-up home on Beach Street, live music has been an undeniable thread in Shorty’s history. This legacy dates back to Mack, who played fiddle in its cramped confines. Those performances paved the way for some of the state’s biggest musical acts, including Willie Nelson, Gary P. Nunn, Patsy Jones, Larry Joe Taylor, and country rock vocalist J.W. George of Bandera, Mack’s great-grandson.

An old fashioned photo of two people standing in a bar

Gladys “Shorty” Fowler and husband Mack. Photo courtesy Jimmy Gates

A woman wearing a blue shirt smiles next to a bar tip jar

The bar’s outside service window

Two men sit on a wooden bench reading newspapers

Regulars take a load off

Although the new Shorty’s location is the latest addition to a two-block entertainment and dining district on Beach Street, Myers continues a weekend rotation of live rock, country, and blues music. There is no cover charge and food is still free on Sundays—typically jambalaya, tamales, and chili dogs provided by the owner. That kind of seamless transition is tangibly epitomized in the bar, which was split in half during the move. One would never notice though after Jordan used a closely matched wood grain laminate and pressure-treated pine to replicate the original.

“Going to Shorty’s always had the feeling of coming home, knowing you’re in a good place. I didn’t know if that feeling could be recreated in another location, but walking inside the night of the reopening was like witnessing a magic trick,” says Andrea Shaw, Jordan’s partner and the regular caterer behind the bar’s traditional Pig Party. “It was exactly the same as always. The only difference is now you watch the sunset from the front porch and the hats on the ceiling are clean.”

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